The Italians, tax evasion and theology

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For most people Italy and tax evasion go together. Even the Italians think so. In which case it’s good to see the Washington Post report that:

Premier Romano Prodi has called on Roman Catholic priests to help him battle Italy’s widespread tax evasion by invoking the seventh commandment: “thou shalt not steal”.

Prodi made the appeal in an interview this week with Italian religious affairs weekly Famiglia Cristiana. He is reported to have said:

A third of Italians heavily evade taxes. To change this mind-set, everybody, starting with the teachers, must do their part, school and church included.

Why, when I go to Mass, is this issue, which is ethically charged, almost never touched upon in the homilies?

Quite right, in all respects. But then Prodi is a practising Catholic who said in justification:

if memory serves, St. Paul exhorted (citizens) to obey the authority.

He did, for the record it’s in Romans 13: 6 & 7 which actually went further. He said:

This is why you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Pay to all their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, toll to whom toll is due, respect to whom respect is due, honour to whom honour is due.

For those who are interested, I referred to this in an article I wrote on the theology of taxation a few years back (and which I’d revise now).

Reaction from the church was mixed according to the Washington Post:

Archbishop Bruno Forte, a theologian and longtime friend of Pope Benedict XVI, said that “if the church is cautious, it is because it tries to understand the reasons people have. Not justifying, understanding.”

But the Rev. Gianni Baget Bozzo, a friend and political aide to conservative leader Silvio Berlusconi, said evading taxes is not a sin and can even be seen as “self-defense.”

The latter is a libertarian view. It’s extraordinarily difficult to reconcile this attitude of self defence with the second commandment of Christ which is “love your neighbour as yourself”. But then I have real problems with much of the libertarian Right and their use of the Christian faith to defend their position.

For the record, I’m an Anglican and have been a Quaker and remain strongly in sympathy with the Quaker tradition.